What do you do with Evan Gattis if you’re manager Fredi Gonzalez? He won’t start over Justin Upton in left field, Brian McCann at catcher or Freddie Freeman at first – but he can hit. The continuing emergence of Gattis is one of the more intriguing storylines this spring training, and the Atlanta Braves will almost undoubtedly find a place on the roster for him. In 10 at-bats this spring training, he has five hits including two doubles, a home run and two RBI. Obviously, that’s a small sample size, but he’s been just as impressive in the minors the past few years. I don’t see a scenario where the Braves can leave his bat off the roster. The hard part for Gonzalez will be determining what position he’ll play.
2012 Recap: Gattis quickly ascended in the Braves’ organization to double-A Mississippi in 2012. He began with the GCL Braves in the Rookie League but was quickly promoted to high-A Lynchburg after recording six hits in 12 at-bats. Gattis caught people’s attention at Lynchburg, posting a .385 average with nine home runs, 29 RBI and a ridiculous 1.289 OPS (Miguel Cabrera led the majors in 2012 with a .999 OPS). The Braves called him up to Mississippi, and he continued to put up good numbers (.258/9/37/.865). In total, Gattis hit .305 with 18 home runs, 67 RBI and a .995 OPS in 2012.
2013 Outlook: Gattis has positioned himself to make the Opening Day roster in 2013. However, determining his role with the team becomes much more complicated. The Braves could choose to use him as the backup catcher to Gerald Laird until McCann returns. Gattis began his career as a catcher but was switched to the outfield this past season. Would the Braves roll the dice on his below average defensive skills at the important catching position? If not, they could use him as a utility bench player – serving as a backup in the outfield, first base and the emergency third catcher. This would allow Gonzalez to use him in more pinch-hitting situations at the end of games.
The Braves have a tough decision to make as Gattis has basically forced his way to the MLB team with his impressive hitting. I think the Braves will begin the season with Gattis as the lone backup catcher. This will help the Braves in two ways. First, catching prospect Christian Bethancourt can begin the 2013 season in the minors and continue to develop his offense as he prepares to likely assume the Atlanta Braves’ catching duties in 2014. Second, they can use a final roster spot on a speed player (Jordan Schafer, Jose Constanza) for pinch-hitting, bunting and pinch-running situations late in games.
The direction the Braves go with Gattis will have an impact on the rest of the roster, which makes it such an intriguing situation to watch as spring training unfolds. The one thing we do know regarding Gattis, the position he plays won’t hinder his ability at the plate.